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Clear CreekWe sleep hard and wake up refreshed around 5:30am.  You would expect we slept well given our previous day’s activites, but I found it surprising.  My experience camping on the cold, hard ground is that I’m typically up every hour peeing in the woods.  Mike and I both credit our incredibly comfy REI sleeping pads.  Mine is the REI insulated air Stratus model.  It weighs less than 1.5 pounds and compresses to almost nothing inside my pack.  It’s just wrong that most pads are larger and heavier than sleeping bags.  I highly recommend this blow-up air pad.

map readingSipping our camp coffee, we recount our previous day’s activities and assess the corporeal damage.  Our encounter near Twin Lakes yesterday with a young girl running harnessed to a pony has by now taken on mythological proportions in our memories.  She looked 16 but might have been a 20-something elite runner.  She was physically bound in leather straps to a pony and running behind it similar to the sport of skijoring.  This morning she is a nymph traveling by unicorn.  The affects of fatigue and coffee at altitude.  My legs feel totally refreshed today but my shoulders are bruised from the weight of the pack.  My right shoulder has a burn from sliding off and on the shoulder strap.  Mike and I are both ready to join Rob though on yet another massive hike up yet another mountain pass.

trail signsWe set out again following La Plata along a comparatively flatter trail that traces the contours of the south fork of Clear Creek as it rises towards its headwaters in Lake Ann.  We have our trail legs under us today and our pace begins strong.  I made adjustments to my backpack during the first hour of yesterday’s hike and the better fit mitigates that weighty beast of burden.  The weather is ideal for hiking and even our southern compadre wears shorts today, and in fact every day.

shirtlessWe meet several other hikers today, including northbound thru-hikers.  These are hikers who begin the CDT at the Mexico border and continue onward to Canada.  We are considered section hikers ourselves.  One such group of NoBo thru-hikers is a family of two athletic parents and a young girl no more than 12 years old.  They relate their experience traversing Lake Ann Pass.  A large snow field sits on the north side of the pass and they were required to glacade down – sliding on their bottoms using an ice ax like a rudder for control.  A twelve year old did this!  Amazing!

creek crossingWe consider the possibility that we might not be able to cross Lake Ann Pass.  Final determination requires closer inspection so we continue our trek onward.  We face a number of challenges on our way up to Lake Ann.  Creek crossings are savagely perilous.  I’m thankful for my waterproof boots.  Snow pack across the trail increases as we approach Lake Ann above 11,000 feet.  This reduces our pace to well under one mile per hour.  Mike learns what a momentum killer it is to post-hole up to his crotch in freezing snow.  Two days earlier he was basting in the 90° heat of Austin, Texas.

CT SignAs we near Lake Ann, our progress slows to a crawl.  We vote for La Plata to drop his pack and sprint up the rest of the way to scope out the possibility of us navigating the snow field atop the pass.  Mike and I sit down to rest.  La Plata returns 15 minutes later to report that we don’t stand a chance of crossing the pass.  We don’t have the gear or quite frankly the skills and any attempt would be reckless.  Way too early in this epic hike to kill ourselves on day two.  Instead we map out plan B, deciding to make a loop out of returning to our car at Twin Lakes via the eastern loop of the Colorado Trail.  We can’t reach that tonight but will hike a jeep road in the morning across the valley.  It will be long at 16 miles but also below treeline, compensating the effort.  La Plata and I are evasive in our responses to Mike when he queries us on the distance.

IMG_4025Today’s hike isn’t finished yet as we have several miles to backtrack and then hike up the trail that would lead to Mt. Huron.  We have incredible views of the three Apostles all day, which are in the background of the fourth photo in this blog post.  The temperature drops and it rains on our descent.  This evolves into rather heavy snow, more than yesterday.  Not so much as to obscure the trail but we found ourselves gearing up with rain protection on our return.

campOnce we reach a 4WD jeep road, we begin to discover choice camp sites.  We desire one with ready access to water and stop once we find that.  Mike retires to his tent without dinner.  He may have experienced some altitude sickness today which makes it difficult to eat or drink.  He misses out on our first campfire.  We figure he’ll feel better once he stops hurting.  We’ll check on him if he wakes up in the morning.